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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Gender digital divide still high – ORBICOM

UNITED Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has disclosed that gender digital divide "is still large and exists both in developing and developed countries".

ORBICOM, the International Network of UNESCO Chairs in Communications made this disclosure in a press statement, just as it gears up for the release of a new report on measuring the "infostate" of 192 countries in the world come September this year.

UNESCO said that a brand new component of the report is the inclusion of a section which quantifies the gender digital divide by constructing a pilot statistical database on the Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) and gender.

According to Iskra Panevska of Communication Development Division, a number of serious difficulties were encountered in the course of the work, including lack of consistent gender statistics in a large number of countries, lack of common definitions and concepts and a mixture of both public and private sources.

"The findings of the report show that the gender divide is large and exists both in developing and developed countries – it is generally larger in developing countries," the statement said.

There is statistical evidence on gender gaps by location of use, showing that even in countries where access to ICTs is fairly equitable from home women are disadvantaged from workplaces and other locations.

The report provides also information on patterns of use with differences in frequency, intensity and type of use, making a clear recognition that in order to address gender disparities in the context of Information Society more than statistical data is needed.

The report to be released in September is the second in series produced in the framework of ORBICOM’s project "From the Digital Divide to Digital Opportunities: Measuring Infostates for Development".

UNESCO said that for the last ten years, the term ‘digital divide’ has become a familiar way of expressing the wide variations in access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) across the world.

The ORBICOM project being supported by UNESCO, UNCTAD, ITU, CIDA and IDRC was initiated in the aftermath of the 2003 Geneva World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-03), to build on the enthusiastic reception by the international community of the "Monitoring the Digital Divide…and Beyond" report.

Infostate, UNESCO explained is an aggregated index of information networks, education and skills, and uptake and intensity of the use of ICT.

Pointing out that the phase two of the project is an attempt to explore the worldwide interest in the role of ICTs for development and how it is disadvantaged by a scarcity of quantitative information to guide informed decision making.

"Is it narrowing or widening the digital divide over time? Which countries are making progress, how fast, when and what ICTs are driving the evolution?," these were some of the issues which phase two is taking up and exploring through comparative analysis, UNESCO said.

The report explains that the Digital Divide is a relative concept and it matters who is compared with whom, in what and when.

Some of the findings of the report indicated that on the whole the digital divide is closing but the digital divide between the group of countries with the lowest infostates, mostly African countries, and all other groups except for the very top one is widening.

UNESCO also cited an instance that many countries on the continent have devised information strategies, by taking for granted the relationship between ICT diffusion and economic development, in an attempt to close the gap.

"These have generally focused on infrastructural improvements: policies in education, for example, have concentrated on hardware provision with much less attention paid to the issues of how new technologies are used," the agency pointed out.

The report attempts to observe the relative movements of individual countries over the reference period in order to understand which countries are making progress, how fast and through what technologies. A few cases, such as Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic, are of particular interest since they had similar Infostates in 1995.

And by 2003, Cote d’Ivoire was reported to have an Infostate more than three times that of the Central African Republic, according to the statement.

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